Johnny O'Connor: Don't give up on New Year fitness resolutions
From this week on, Connacht’s Johnny O’Connor will be writing a weekly health and fitness column on joe.ie. This week he gives a guide on how to make sure your New Year fitness plans don’t fail before you even get started.
1. Don’t set unrealistic expectations
It often happens that when people set out fitness goals for themselves at the start of the year, they’re not realistic and they are distorted by watching TV programmes like The Biggest Loser or listening to other people say stuff like ‘I lost 20 pounds in a month’. That’s fine for people on a reality television show who have a massive support group, but it’s not realistic for most people.
When you’re making a New Year’s resolution, question your expectations and make sure that they’re achievable. You have to be honest with yourself and peg back your ego. There’s nothing wrong with having expectations and stuff like that, but everybody is looking for the fast fix; people seem to want to get fit as fast as possible and shy away from hard work. When people don’t see results straight away, they start to get annoyed and often give up, but you just have to be realistic and stick at it and things will eventually come good.
Just because you’ve done a good session in the gym doesn’t give you licence to binge on pies afterwards.
As far as setting unrealistic goals are concerned, I’m as bad as anyone else. In terms of weight gain, when I was younger I was trying to put on two or three kilos a month, absolutely crazy stuff. I’d be stuffing myself with food and drinking loads of water – I’m putting that down to my youth, I don’t think I’m too bad now! It takes a while to put on muscle mass, so I was probably about 90 per cent water at that stage. I’d jump up on the scales in the morning after drinking two litres of water and think I was great, but I was lying to myself really. Your ego often takes over in those cases, so you have to realise when that is happening and reassess your goals.
2. Be honest with yourself
The biggest problem for most people, especially men, is they go head first into their new regimes so that most sessions are balls out, 100 per cent through the wall sort of stuff. If you haven’t been training for a while or if you’ve become slightly overweight, your introduction should be slow and gradual and become more intense as you go on. The problem with men, myself included, is that they think they’re advanced in everything; I’ve certainly been guilty of it over the years.
A lot of people that go too hard straight away will find that two or three weeks into a programme, they’ll be absolutely exhausted and won’t have the energy to stick at it. Yes, go to the gym and get something out of it, but you don’t want to be exhausted for every training session and you have to remember that you are married to other things in life such as your family and your job and you can’t divorce yourself from that.
If you go to the gym thinking you’re going to do a stress buster or a tough session it might seem like a good idea at the time, but the next day when you can hardly walk up the stairs and you’re asleep at the desk it’s not so good. The lesson to be learned is: don’t over-train. You have to be honest with yourself and get the balance right.
3. You can’t out-train a bad diet
People going to the gym generally want to build muscle or lose weight and diet is equally important in both cases: to put on weight, you eat more and exercise less and to lose weight, you eat less and exercise more. If you spend four hours a week in a gym, often for a while after a session you feel great, but you have to remember that what you do in the other 168 hours in the week are just as important. Just because you’ve done a good session in the gym doesn’t give you licence to binge on pies afterwards.
Plenty of these are essential to any training regime
A healthy lifestyle is important; eat foods like your mother told you to, plenty of fruit and vegetables. Most people know what a healthy meal looks like, it’s common sense. To get the best out of your training regime your diet has to be absolutely strict; it needs to be very good for a certain period of time in order to achieve what you want.
4. Ask for help
When it comes to health and fitness people often aren’t educated about these sorts of things but are also afraid to ask for advice. If you wanted to look after your accounts or somebody to do a job in your house, you’d ask for help and it should be no different when you’re trying to get fit. There’s no harm in looking in your local area to see who knows best and seek their advice.
If you commit to a personal trainer and he commits to you getting results, and if you follow the plan and you don’t get results, then you should bin him and get somebody else. If you stick to your plan, they should be accountable for your results - it shouldn’t be a case of you losing ten pounds but ending up with a bad back, being unable to move or being crippled with injuries. If you can afford it, seek help and if you can’t, have a good look around the resources on the internet, but don’t be afraid to seek help in the first place.
5. Get a training partner
When you embark on a training regime, it is inevitable that you will have down days and at times like that everyone needs a helping hand. When you make a commitment with someone else who’s keen to do the same thing it becomes a lot easier, because they’ll motivate you and help turn going to the gym into more of a social occasion.
It’s easier again for guys that play team sports because if there are 20 other guys on a team with you, there’ll always be someone to go along with. Training with a partner, with a training group or joining a class can often provide you with the motivation that you will often lack on your own. It makes a big difference.
Johnny O’Connor plays professional rugby with Connacht. He has previously played for London Wasps and has made 12 appearances for Ireland.